Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Then and Now: La Caridad on Broadway

La Caridad
La Caridad Restaurant, Broadway and 78th, ca. 1970.
One of the themes of this blog is the details of life matter. Corner joints may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but they serve a purpose and affect local residents in underappreciated ways. They give a neighborhood character, provide a place to meet people, and also often offer tasty treats for the discerning foodie.

One such neighborhood eatery was La Caridad (technically called "La Unica Caridad"). Caridad is a theological Virgin name that translates as Charity, representing Our Lady of Charity, a popular saint's name in Cuba. Located on the southwest corner of Broadway and 78th Street, it was a neighborhood fixture for 52 years. Opened in 1968, La Caridad offered Chino Latino food, which blends Mexican and Chinese food. Chinese-Spanish restaurants are an Upper West Side staple, though there are fewer of them now than there used to be. Here, we do a then-and-now comparison of La Caridad Restaurant on the Upper West Side.
La Caridad
La Caridad (then called "La Caridad 78 restaurant") in October 2007 (Michael Minn).
One of the things that endlessly fascinates me about New York City is that you can pick out a random photo from decades ago and it will have surprisingly recent echoes. Such is the case with the 1970s photo at the top of this page.
La Caridad
The La Caridad takeout menu in June 2009. Note that this is the Cuban menu, the Chinese food menu was on the other side.
You might think that some old black-and-white photo from before when most of the people reading this were born is just some historical artifact. Well, it is, but the restaurant itself lasted until very recently.
La Caridad
La Caridad apparently had different names through the years at its iconic location at the corner of 78th Street and Broadway. Just a random search of photographs shows it being called La Unica Caridad, La Caridad, and La Caridad 78 Restaurant. It was always known as La Caridad, though.
La Caridad
La Caridad changed over the years from the 1950s counter-seating diner setting shown in the top photograph to a more typical diner setting, with tables where you could eat and get in and out of quickly.
The delightful thing about neighborhood joints like La Caridad is that you could get good, cheap food that you'll never find at the big chains. Just pop in during a day of shopping and grab some quick vaca frita or sesame chicken, in and out within half an hour for under $10 per person. Try doing all that at the Golden Arches.
La Caridad
La Caridad, May 2009 (Google Street View).
La Caridad's founder, Raphael Lee, was a Chinese immigrant who had lived in Havana. He developed a love for both Chinese food and local Cuban delicacies from that city’s Chinatown. While the food is called "fusion," however, they never really and truly melded. You didn't get fried plantains and chicken with cashews on the same plate. 
La Caridad
Now, we're not talking about the Four Seasons here. These types of neighborhood joints are barely a step above the greasy pizza places that all began with the Original Ray's (I love Ray's pizza, btw). To be blunt, the Chinese food was standard Manhattan Chinese American (want some General Tso's Pork Chops?), while the Cuban dishes were on a separate part of the menu. If you were looking for something exotic and an "experience," you could turn the menu to the Cuban pages and order some sancocho soup. Your companion, meanwhile, could stay in the Chinese menu section and choose the nice and safe Crispy Spring Roll followed by Sesame Chicken. But it was still a melange of styles.
La Caridad
La Caridad, June 2019 (Google Street View).
La Caridad closed in July 2020. Even the New York Times took notice, that's how iconic La Caridad had become. Whether the closing was related to the pandemic is an open question, though that likely had something to do with it. Local residents noticed employees emptying out the store in the preceding weeks and the owner did not disclose why he was leaving. Who knows if it will ever be back, sometimes these restaurants pop up in other locations where the rents are low like they were when the restaurant was founded. But the memories remain of the glorious takeout and ambiance of a classic local joint.
La Caridad
La Caridad ca. 2020 (Robert K. Chin).

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Then and Now: Mermaid Avenue, Coney Island, NYC

Jack's Discount Center, Coney Island
Jack's Discount Center, 1970.
This series is all about the evolution of a city. We examine this by looking at details such as individual businesses and then seeing how changes in them reveal something larger about what is going on. The story of Jack's Discount Center in Coney Island is a good example of that.

Coney Island has gone through massive ups and downs over the years. The neighborhood we call Coney Island isn't actually on its own island (though it used to be kind of an island until Coney Island Creek was filled in during the 1920s/1930s) unless you count it being on Long Island. It is located on the western portion of the Coney Island peninsula west of Ocean Parkway.

Coney Island remained a sleepy little town far from the big city until 1878, when two major things happened. The huge Brighton Beach Bathing Pavilion opened that year as well as the Brooklyn, Flatbush, and Coney Island Railway, which opened on 2 July as the predecessor to the New York City Subway's present-day Brighton Line aka Brighton Beach Line. The original two-track line was acquired by the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit Corporation BMT in 1923, which in turn was folded into the modern subway system in 1940. The subway was the defining feature of the area, resulting in businesses being constructed along its route.

Coney Island reached a peak of fame as a destination in the 1930s through the 1950s. It was the chosen way for city residents to "beat the heat" in a time before the widespread use of air conditioners. Even though the beaches were far away for most people and insanely crowded, they were still better than sitting in a sweltering apartment. The subways remained at a nickel a ride from October 27, 1904, when the first subway opened, until July 1, 1948, when the fare finally doubled to a dime. This made them accessible to everyone who was willing to suffer the long, rumbling ride. However, by the 1960s the area fell into a steep decline as people got air conditioning and more and more city residents got cars or moved to the suburbs.

Anyway, I spotted the photo above from 1970 of a typical "dollar store" before they were known as such and were still known as "discount centers." This one was called "Jack's Discount Center," and it was located at the current street address of 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Coney Island. So, I decided to do a comparison of Jack's Discount Center in Coney Island then and now.
Jack's Discount Center, Coney Island
A shot in 1978 taken from the subway platform gives a little more perspective. Note the top of the subway car in the foreground.
The property, located at coordinates 40.5772094,-73.9818174, was originally built in 1930. Located a few blocks from the beach, it already was starting to look run down by 1970, and things didn't get any better during the 1970s. These types of discount stores used to be much more common in New York City than they are now. While you may still some scattered in various places such as 14th Street in Manhattan and the South Bronx, they've largely been supplanted by gentrification, exorbitant rents, and smaller, more focused chain retailers.
Mermaid Horizon
Undated, but the same site perhaps ca. 2000. Note that this version was called "Mermaid Horizon Discounts" in honor of the street location. Now it became a "99 Cent" store.
These days, businesses have to be real money machines to survive. That's why you see so many of these quaint old businesses disappearing, to be replaced by bank branches, pharmacies, and Starbucks establishments. Nothing wrong with that, it's what the people who are voting with their dollars want.
McDonald's at 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn, NYC
The new McDonald's in 2012, boarded up for Hurricane Sandy.
Around 2008-2009, the building, which was located on two parcels. Fiserv Mastermoney was drastically renovated and replaced with a McDonald's restaurant. While it certainly looks like the building was completely torn down, complete tear-downs don't happen too often in New York City for tax reasons. An owner needs to retain just enough original structural elements to be able to call it a "renovation." But, basically, the old 1930 two-story building disappeared around that time and was replaced by the current restaurant.
McDonald's at 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn, NYC
A recent photo of the location. Note that this angle gives you a little perspective, showing a sliver of the massive elevated subway line that is just across the street.
That area of Brooklyn has become a rough area over the years, and there was a fatal stabbing at that McDonald's on Easter Sunday 2014. That's just a reflection of the neighborhood, which has never completely recovered from its steep decline during the 1960s and 1970s.

However, lest you be left with the wrong impression, this particular McDonald's gets an "A" grade from the NYC Health Inspectors, so it has that going for it. It even gets onto Coney Island's "Ten Best Eating Establishment" lists, which may tell you more about the current state of Coney Island than it does this particular burger joint. The world needs fast food, though, and this looks like a great location for one.
McDonald's at 1403 Mermaid Avenue, Brooklyn, NYC
This capture from Google Street View in November 2019 gives a little more context. The subway line is revealed right across the street. One can imagine that the original Jack got a lot of business from the subway trade, thus explaining all of his garish signs facing in that direction.
The story of this parcel of land really speaks volumes about the evolution of New York City. The small, independent businesses in their ramshackle buildings had their day, and now it is a time of chain restaurants and sleek architecture. There are some constants such as the subway lines, however, that maintain the structure of the city even as everything around them changes.

I hope you enjoyed this little walk through the past in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Please visit some of our other entries!


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Then and Now: Battery Park City

A New City Arises From the Sea

Battery Park City site
The Lower West Side of Manhattan, future site of Battery Park City on the left, in 1975. 
While much of New York City hasn't changed much in the past 50 or even 100 years, there is one part of the city that has undergone dramatic changes since 1970. That is the Manhattan waterfront. Until the 1980s, the waterfront - which you might think would be a treasured resource - was neglected and barren. While the 1975 picture above shows a construction zone, that wasn't much different than other areas that tended to have abandoned piers and parking lots as their main "attractions."

The above photo caught my eye because it just seemed so familiar. That's what the Manhattan waterfront looks like! Or rather, that's what it did look like to people who grew up before the city and state poured massive resources into developing it. So, this is a then-and-now comparison of the Battery Park City site located on the southwest corner of Manhattan Island.
Battery Park City site
The future Battery Park City site in 1960.
The first thing to realize is that the Manhattan waterfront originally cut to the east of Battery Park City. The above photo from 1960 shows the pre-development shoreline extending just beyond the West Side Elevated Highway. In fact, the "natural" shoreline is even further east and had been extended a block or two west ca. 1800. New York City was still the home of numerous docks in that area that accommodated the ships that had serviced the city since its founding. By 1960, shipping had declined in importance and the piers were beginning to deteriorate.
Battery Park City site
The Lower West Side of Manhattan ca. 1977
The idea of building a World Trade Center began during World War II but took decades to turn from conception to construction. Demolition of the area began in March 1966 and the Twin Towers were completed in 1973. While it was being built, the New York State Legislature in 1968 created the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) to prepare plans for future development to the west of the West Side Highway. Developments in Manhattan can take a long time, and it wasn't until 1972 that any funding appeared. Landfill excavated to build the World Trade Center was just trucked across the highway and dumped along the shoreline. This created the first landfill for the future Battery Park City.
Battery Park City site
The future site of Battery Park City in 1975.
Title to the landfill was transferred from the city to the Battery Park City Authority in 1979. From that point, construction accelerated, but it still went fairly slowly as the ground needed to be improved for the construction of large apartment buildings. By the late 1980s, most of the essential points in Battery Park City were in place, though development continued throughout the 1990s. It became a great place to live for young lawyers and stockbrokers working in the financial district and other young up-and-comers even though it was still unfinished.
Battery Park City site
The future site of Battery Park City in 1975, complete with homeless people. Naturally, befitting the times, there is trash everywhere. This shot clearly shows the deteriorating West Side Elevated Highway, finally demolished after much wrangling in the 1980s.
While neighborhoods in New York City are never "complete," Battery Park City was largely intact by 2000. The waterfront then looked completely different, with a long sidewalk, plenty of greenery, and a small port where millionaires' yachts were parked.
Battery Park City site
Battery Park City under construction in September 1982.
Of course, the entire environment changed with the attack on the World Trade Center on 11 September 1911. Fortunately for Battery Park City, the Twin Towers largely collapsed in a pancake fashion and did not utterly destroy the new residential buildings in Battery Park City. However, some structures such as the Winter Garder were severely damaged by falling debris, and toxic dust clouds caused a lot of residents to develop health problems.
Battery Park City site
Battery Park City ca. 2020.
While the World Trade Center had to go through a long reconstruction, Battery Park City basically shrugged off the attack. Goldman Sachs opened its world headquarters there in 2005 and you really have to look hard within Battery Park City for any remnants of the attack aside from memorials.
Battery Park City site
Battery Park City in October 2019 (Google Street View).
Today, while having been literally on the edge of devastation and destruction, Battery Park City is in its prime. As the above photo shows, the east side of West Street below the new World Trade Center remains largely as it was before the construction of Battery Park City, though the elevated highway has long since been replaced by the greatly expanded West Street. It's a remarkable illustration of beating off adversity, but that's what New York and New Yorkers are all about.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Please visit our other articles taking a quick look into the past!


Sunday, January 3, 2021

Then and Now: Manhattan Skyline From Dumbo

The Evolving City

View of Manhattan from Dumbo
Manhattan Skyline from Dumbo, 1978.
We're all familiar with the typical postcard view of the Manhattan skyline with the Brooklyn Bridge in the foreground and Manhattan Island looming above it. The above photo from 1978 is a slight variation of this well-known scene, which is usually taken from the riverbank near the bridge. This is taken from a higher vantage point than usual and thereby showing the scene in some detail. I saw that grand view and wondered how it has changed over the years, and so here we examine then and now for the Manhattan skyline from the Dumbo section of Brooklyn.
View of Manhattan from Dumbo
To be sure, it's hardly a unique vantage point and has been over and over throughout the years. But, anyway, let's define terms. "Dumbo" here is not the Disney elephant, but a Brooklyn neighborhood. The name literally stands for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass," but it spans the entire waterfront area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges (the Manhattan would be slightly to the right of this photo) along with another section of Brooklyn east to Vinegar Hill.
View of Manhattan from Dumbo
The Manhattan skyline during World War I, proving that this particular view has been preferred for over a hundred years. Looks uncannily similar, doesn't it? Note the Woolworth Building, completed in 1913, serving as the center point that the World Trade Center later filled (Shorpy).
The fact that the photo at the top of this page was taken in 1978 is particularly appropriate because that was the year that the acronym "Dumbo" was coined. Local residents feared onrushing gentrification and figured giving the area an unattractive or even forbidding nickname - think "Hell's Kitchen" - would keep out the dreaded Yuppies.
This is a view of the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn showing part of the Manhattan skyline in 1939. Already, the Woolworth Building has been dwarfed by other buildings. Credit: Associated Press.
That didn't happen, and the Yuppies (who morphed into a new breed of invaders called tech workers) could not be held back. While the nickname somewhat ironically stuck anyway, Dumbo is now the most expensive neighborhood in Brooklyn and the fourth for the entire city. Perhaps giving the area any nickname at all helped to give the somewhat ramshackle area (at the time) an identity and actually brought attention to it. Now, it's home to tech firms like Etsy, and their employees have bid up rents so much that they eventually forced out many of the original residents. It's an old, old story, and the people of San Francisco and many other places can tell you all about it.
View of Manhattan from Dumbo
I have a confession to make, and that is that I personally feel the photo at the top of the page is "the" Manhattan skyline as seen from Brooklyn. As we'll see, it has changed quite a bit in some respects, but the classic view of the Twin Towers serving as a solid background for this scene will always be my favorite. I actually prefer the new World Trade Center for several reasons, but in this one respect - the view along with the memory - I just don't think New York City looks complete without those two fateful projections into the sky. That's my hangup, I suppose, but judging from the many posters and prints of that view from the 1970s that are for sale, I doubt I'm the only one who feels that way.
View of Manhattan from Dumbo
Standard recent postcard view from the same location.
Anyway, the Manhattan skyline was irrevocably changed in September 2001, leading to its present state. The basic scene remains unchanged - a bridge over a river leading into a grand city - but the Great Clock, as Tolstoy would call it, has done its work all around it. For better or for worse.
View of Manhattan from Dumbo
Manhattan skyline from Dumbo recently ca. 2020 (Google Earth).
I hope you enjoyed this walk down through time from a specific point of view on planet earth. Changes in the world around us can be dramatic or they can be subtle, but they can't be stopped and they can't be avoided. All we can do is understand them, appreciate them, and hope for the best.
Please visit some of my other pages in my "then and now" series!


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Then and Now: Bowery Street, Coney Island, NYC

A Coney Island Wonder

Coney Island Wonder Wheel
Bowery Street at West 12th Street, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, in 1993 (Gregoire Alessandrini).
While most of the posts on this blog show places in Manhattan, that's only because it is the most recognizable part of New York City to a wide audience. New York City is much more than Manhattan, of course, so occasionally we venture outside the confines of that island to look at other neighborhoods. In this post, we look at a simple street scene in Brooklyn, specifically, at Coney Island.

The photo above was taken at the corner of Bowery Street and West 12th Street. The center point of the photo is the Wonder Wheel. This is located between West 12th Street and the famous Coney Island boardwalk, actually called the Riegelmann Boardwalk.
Coney Island Wonder Wheel
The Wonder Wheel in 1941, taken from the same location as the photo at the top of this page (Alfred Palmer, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress).
The Wonder Wheel is an institution in Coney Island. Designed by Charles Hermann and constructed in 1920 by him, William J. Ward, and Herman Garms along with famous Coney Island impresario George C. Tilyou, the Wonder Wheel survived the decline of Coney Island as a resort after the 1940s. It changed hands in 1983 when the Vourderis family took over. The portion of West 12th Street adjacent to the Wonder Wheel is now named Denos D. Vourderis Place after the family patriarch. He renamed the area around his new property Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.
Coney Island Wonder Wheel
Another photo of the Wonder Wheel from the same location in the 1940s (Image courtesy of the Coney Island History Project).
While it looks like many other Ferris wheels, the Wonder Wheel is actually a bit different than many of them. It is an "eccentric" wheel. This means that riders can choose cars that drop away from the wheel at various times, giving the impression of free-fall. Naturally, that is exactly what some guys are looking for on dates as their companions squeal out in sudden terror.
Coney Island Wonder Wheel
The Wonder Wheel at its opening in 1920 (photo courtesy of Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park).
There aren't a lot of the original attractions remaining in Coney Island, so the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission officially designated the Wonder Wheel as a landmark in 1989. It remains a family business as of 2020, its centennial.
Coney Island Wonder Wheel
Bowery Street at West 12th Street, October 2019 (Google Street View).
As can be seen from a recent view, nothing much has changed through the years. The streets are the same, the Wonder Wheel is still there spinning around, and the usual touristy buildings surround it.
Coney Island Wonder Wheel
Bowery Street sign at West 12th Street, Coney Island in October 2019 (Google Street View).
One interesting thing is that the "Bowery Street" sign is badly faded - it may actually be the same one seen in the 1993 photo. Or even earlier. It's curiously befitting a scene that extends virtually unchanged back well before almost all of us were born.

I hope you enjoyed this brief trip down memory lane in an obscure corner of Brooklyn. The spirit of Coney Island lives on even as the community has changed and grown. Please visit some of the other entries in this series!


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Then and Now: West 88th Street and Broadway

Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC, in 1960.
Some areas of Manhattan survive the strains and struggles that swirl around them decade after decade and wind up looking at worst about the same. This is the case with the street scene shown above. The residential areas of Manhattan tend to change very little over time. While office buildings in some sections of the city can come and go, apartment buildings tend to have very long lives. Let's take a look at Broadway and West 88th Street then and now, a classic Upper West Side area, and so how it has fared over the past sixty years.

The picture of the intersection from 1960, above, shows a typical Manhattan scene. There are the usual solid edifices on either side of the street, with small businesses such as a drug store that catered to the local residents. The scene looks barren, everything aside from the people and cars being composed of lifeless rock and asphalt.
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC, in 2020 (Google Earth).
The first thing we notice from a recent picture of the same scene is that the buildings haven't changed much at all. The building on the far (southwest) corner, 2389-2395 Broadway, is a 7-story office building that was completed in 1920. The building across from it, at 255 West 88th Street, is a 14-floor residential building completed in 1924. So, 1960 was just a typical and random year for this corner over the past 100 years, just as 2020 is and likely 2050 will be as well. Nothing much changes when buildings serve their purpose, and there's nothing wrong with that at all.
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC, in 2020 (Google Street View).
A ground-level view shows that some things never change. People need drug stores, so Zelnick's Drug Store has given way to a Duane Reade pharmacy (though apparently, it has closed). The 2007 MillionTreesNYC initiative certainly has softened street corners like this, which previously looked like industrial wastelands.
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC
Broadway at West 88th Street, NYC, in 2020 (Google Street View).
One last change that can be seen is that the variety of stores has gone down drastically since 1960. In the 1960 photo, you can see a drug store, a cigar store, what looks like a haberdashery (Bilks), and several other businesses. In 2020, you have the massive Duane Reade, a bank, and an eatery. You literally can find these same businesses on practically every other street corner in NYC these days. The invasion of the chain stores and bank branches has reached epic proportions in Manhattan shows no signs of stopping.

I hope you liked this entry in our "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. There's something to be said for permanency in residential areas like the Upper West Side, and if that's what you're looking for, you can do a lot worse than the corner of Broadway and West 88th Street. Please visit some of our other entries in this series!


Then and Now: The Beacon Theater on Broadway

Faded Glory

Beacon Theater NYC ca. 1981
Beacon Theater on Broadway and West 74th Street, NYC, ca. December 1980.
There's no question that New York went through hard times in the 1970s. Bankruptcy loomed, crime exploded, and nobody respected much of anything, particularly bare walls that were just beckoning some young "street artist" with a spray can of paint. New York City used to be the home of many monumental movie palaces. Most of them are long since gone, but a few theaters from the grand age of vaudeville in the 1920s and 1930s remain. Let's take a look at one of these grand survivors, the Beacon Theater at 2124 Broadway, NYC.
Beacon Theater
The Beacon Hotel and Theater not long after its completion in 1928.
The Beacon was a 2,894-seat, three-tiered palace designed by Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager, who had just designed the nearby Roxy in 1927. Trying to duplicate the Roxy's glamour, the Beacon's first name was the Roxy Midway. With the building completed November 1928, and the enclosed theater opened in 1929, the Beacon contained the usual theater kitsch of the era, complete with seated golden lions on each side of the stage and a Wurlitzer 4 manual 19 ranks theatre organ. Warner Bros operated the Beacon until 1932, when it sold it to the first of many subsequent operators.
Gold Diggers of Broadway showing at the Beacon
The Beacon showing the technicolor "Gold Diggers of Broadway" (1929) during its glory days.
As the decades rolled along, the old theaters succumbed to age and urban renewal. In the mid-70s, Steven Singer and Stephen Metz bought the Beacon and hosted a series of concerts by the Grateful Dead in 1976. The new crowds weren't as respectful of the kitsch and the theater began to deteriorate quickly.  By 1986, the Beacon was the largest surviving picture palace in Manhattan. It was in sad shape by the 1980s, though, as the picture at the top of this page shows. New owners in 1986 converted the theater into a disco, a bit late to that fad but better late than never! Unfortunately, that meant gutting the interior, so if the golden lions were still there then, they weren't thereafter. On November 4, 1982, the entire 24-story Beacon Theater and Hotel was designated a national landmark and is now on the Register of Historic Places.
Beacon Theater featured in "Who's That Knocking At My Door?"
Stars Harvey Keitel and Zina Bethune in Martin Scorcese's "Who's That Knocking At My Door" (1969), with the Beacon Theater looming in the background.
Martin Scorcese is a big fan of the Beacon and has featured it in his movies. While a student at NYU in the 1960s, he filmed "Who’s That Knocking At My Door?" (1969), starring Harvey Keitel, and the Beacon makes its first appearance in a Scorcese film. It reappears in his 2006 documentary “Shine a Light” about the Rolling Stones shows that year at the theater.
Beacon Theater
The same view as the one at the top of this page in May 2019 (Google Street View).
The Beacon obviously has been through a lot of incarnations through the years and no doubt has many more to come. Currently, Cablevision, which has been gobbling up New York City showplaces such as the Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden, holds the lease to the Beacon Theater. It has restored the Beacon to a much more presentable appearance that hosts top acts in a variety of entertainment formats. The interior is still majestic, though nothing like the original glamor of the 1920s.
Beacon Theater
Beacon Theater at 2124 Broadway in May 2019 (Google Street View).
I hope you enjoyed this trip through time with the Beacon Theater. Please visit some of our other pages if you liked this one!